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Trees - On The Shore CD (album) cover

ON THE SHORE

Trees

 

Prog Folk

3.54 | 56 ratings

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Einsetumadur
Prog Reviewer
3 stars 10/15P. Though not as professional and well-rehearsed as their colleagues from Fairport Convention, Trees presented an album in 1970 which is absolutely above the average. There are about 20 minutes of 5-star folk rock listening here, many guitar solos which are unusually captivating and some further moments of perfect band interplay. Points are deducted for some inaccuracies in timing and one or two songs which you might also skip.

Trees are a band which actually only a few die-hard folk rock fans know, and they mostly do because of the unexpectedly much-covered song The Garden of Jane Delawney or due to bassist Bias Boshell's work with The Moody Blues and Barclay James Harvest. The few discussions about the band that do occur in the web, however, empty quite frequently in the awareness that this band is a particularly uninspired Fairport Convention clone with much too long instrumental sections - and that the two albums of this band are pretty similar in quality, the debut album being a wee bit more successful than the second one.

After having given both albums some spins in manifold situations, including checking the music out one afternoon while gazing at the sea from the coastline of the British county Dorset, I came to the conclusion that none of these points really suit my own perception of this album. It's hard for me to profess that this album is of a consistently superlative quality (hence the rating), but there are plenty of breathtaking moments which are utterly atmospheric, in an utterly British way.

Many bands from the, as I put it, 'back rows' of electric folk (Steeleye Span etc. being the 'front row') don't really get the essence of folk music and end up strumming around on a guitar and singing about maidens and pheasants and other occurances which are far away from their actual experiences, hence making their music unauthentic and pathetic. This problem mars a lot of the so-called 'acid folk' releases, albums which mix stoned-out jams with some shallow and badly-sung lyrics with pseudo-medieval topics. I personally think that this band's debut album The Garden of Jane Delawney falls, at least partly, into this category. Apart from the sometimes shrill vocals by Celia Humphris the band wasn't really able to pull together, the muffled drums being unable to carry three estranged lead guitars through the songs.

Unexpectedly, this album makes a huge difference. The drummer finally pulls his socks up and sets a stable rhythmic base, the lead guitar plays in a more restrained way - and with the help of a better production and the choice of slower songs this album turned out perfectly well. Of course, Trees aren't innovators like the Albion Country Band or Fairport Convention, but especially in folk music I don't care too much about innovation as long as the interpretations are able to cast a certain spell on me. Pieces like Polly On The Shore and Geordie only look like Fairport Convention on the surface - especially regarding the female vocals, the multiple electric guitars and the chunky bass guitar. But the overdriven guitar notes swell in and out in a nearly Steve Hackett-like manner on top of some pretty heavy power chords while the bass guitar rambles around the hectic drum fills. All that is distinctly more psychedelic than the gritty and more rootsy sound of Liege and Lief, especially in Polly On The Shore, my favorite piece on this record, which floats in its own sonic world with the distant fading guitars, some particularly heavenly - but at the very same time harsh - vocals by Celia Humphris, the wonderful acoustic breakdown around the 2/3 mark of the song and the climactic electric guitar solo in the last two minutes. These are definitely 6 minutes of folk rock of the finest kind.

Those who appreciated this song may also enjoy the fairly similar interpretation of Geordie which provides many languorous chills with the fantastic interplay of the swelling lead guitar and the sharp counterpoints of the rhythm guitar. This recording predates Deep Purple's Fools by a year, but the guitar technique in the solo is quite similar. After listening to the fairly messy instrumental parts of the debut album I find Unwin Brown's brief unaccompanied drum breaks quite rewarding, especially the one before the gorgeous restrained guitar solo around 2:25. And in this context one should also mention the tasteful choice of traditional folk songs, all of which have never gotten a rock band outfit before and most of which the band has seemingly learned from recordings of Carthy & Swarbrick.

Streets of Derry, making good use of the pretty unknown Fender 12-string electric guitar, is for sure the most professionally arranged song in which a consequent splitting of guitar duties makes the whole band extremely tight and interesting to listen to. The very first stanza is even stripped from all electric guitars and features only drums, a melodically independent bass line and drums plus Celia Humphris' voice. During the course of nearly 8 minutes there are always new ideas, different guitar solos by different guitarists and everything is covered in that bittersweet harmony which draws through the whole album. Sally, Free and Easy is the piece which actually brought me to this band as I was looking for a folk rock version of that Cyril Tawney song. Profiting from Bias Boshell's well-performed classicistic piano work and some competently rapid acoustic guitar picking the band manage to catch my interest for the complete 10 minutes - more so than their previous She Moves Through The Fair rework, although it's clearly music which allows you to let your mind wander for a little while. I quite like it that the band, starting with the quiet vocal parts and letting the whole piece grow into a louder instrumental part, ends the piece in a similarly peaceful vein to the beginning.

The two shortest numbers on the album are the traditional Soldiers Three and the cheekily entitled Adam De La Halle adaptation Adam's Toon. Both of them are, regarding their short length, unexpectedly effective. The former, serving as the opener of the record, features wonderfully grim harmony vocals by nearly the complete band, very much in contrast to a peaceful instrumental version of the verse placed in the second half of the song. Adam's Toon is entirely instrumental, played with guitar and percussion instruments, echoing the minimalism of the Middle Ages when this tune was composed.

Although I'm usually a bit sceptical when songwriters of our times write songs in the vein of the old folk songs, the three original compositions Bias Boshell provided for this album turn out to be quite decent; actually, the original compositions were those which, in my opinion, also saved the group's debut album from complete irrelevance. Murdoch, a ballad depicting a Tolkienesque mountainside quite akin to how one imagines Mordor, succeeds in captivating an uncomfortably dark, cold and ghostly atmosphere which one also knows from British literature. The multi-tracked vocals of Celia Humphris in the last part are indeed remarkable, but don't ever listen to this album in the car, particularly when you aren't the only one sitting in this car. Somehow the composition with the many many words put on one chord reminds me a bit of Ian Anderson's acoustic songs, mainly the ones in the end of the Ch'teau d'Isaster tapes. While The Iron Is Hot, a historically founded protest song written by Boshell from the perspective of the working class, proves that Bias Boshell wouldn't be a good lead singer, but in combination with Celia Humphris and some other band member singing backing vocals his voice is perfectly okay. With the slightly Kirby-like (q.v. Nick Drake) restrained string arrangement in the background and a fairly crude rock band part in the middle it shows in which direction folk rock may be taken as well. Fool is a nice listen, especially because of a blazing guitar solo, but ultimately not really memorable, apart from the hushed guitar lick which appears after nearly every line which is sung. Overall there are too many Celia Humphris overdubs and too few real harmony vocals.

Little Sadie, a brief piece of American folk, however is a complete let-down which cannot be saved by some half-decent instrumental parts between the stanzas. Celia Humphris cannot keep the timing of the song, the whole arrangement is a mess and the melody gets on my nerves terribly. Think Rocky Raccoon by the Beatles or Benny the Bouncer by ELP, but performed in an amateurish way.

Since I only own the original album without the bonus CD I cannot say if buying the expanded edition would be recommendable. Apart from a BBC track and a demo you only find remixes of the original album among the bonus tracks. The remixes reportedly add additional backing vocals, lack some reverb and

The album itself is absolutely recommendable to folk rock lovers, in particular because of there are plenty of excellent haunting moments gathered on the record (Soldier's Three, Polly On The Shore, Streets of Derry, Geordie). These ethereal renderings of pretty unknown folk songs easily touch the 5-star mark. I give the complete album merely 3 stars overall because the other songs, ranging somewhere between 'bad' and 'very decent', cannot really keep up with the rest.

Einsetumadur | 3/5 |

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